MUMBAI, (AP) — The sole surviving gunman from last year’s Mumbai attacks, a Pakistani national, on Monday pleaded guilty at his trial, admitting for the first time his part in the atrocity that killed 166 people.
Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, 21, told a special prison court — where he had originally pleaded not guilty — that he wanted to confess, taking the judge, the prosecution and his own defence lawyer by surprise.
“I plead guilty,” he told the court in Mumbai, before narrating how the attacks were carried out, and giving details of his journey from Pakistan with nine other gunmen.
Kasab and accomplice Abu Ismail opened fire with AK-47 assault rifles and threw hand grenades at commuters at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, killing 52 and injuring 109 in the bloodiest episode of the 60-hour reign of terror.
The pair then fled the station, firing indiscriminately on the way, killing civilians and a number of senior police officers, including the head of the city’s Anti-Terrorism Squad.
Kasab, who also placed an eight-kilogram (18-pound) bomb in a taxi that took him to the station and later exploded near Mumbai’s airport, killing the driver and a passenger, was the only one of the 10 gunmen to survive.
“I was firing and Abu was hurling hand grenades,” he told the court, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
“I was in front of Abu who had taken such a position that no one could see him. I fired at a policeman after which there was no firing from the police side.”
Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told reporters outside court that Kasab had realised “the cat was out of the bag” after 134 witnesses gave evidence against him since the trial began in April.
DNA, fingerprint and closed-circuit television evidence was also produced in court.
Nikam linked the confession to the forthcoming trial in Pakistan of five men accused of involvement in the attacks, including key Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives Zarar Shah and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind.
LeT, a banned, Pakistan-based Islamist group, is said to have trained, equipped and financed the November 26-29 attacks, which targeted luxury hotels, Mumbai’s main railway station, a popular restaurant and Jewish centre.
The attacks, which injured more than 300 people and left 26 foreign nationals dead, frayed already strained relations between India and Pakistan and sparked international condemnation.
Ashok Chavan, the chief minister of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, welcomed Kasab’s guilty plea and told the NDTV news channel: “All those involved in the 26/11 attacks should be hanged.”
Sadashiv Chandrakant Kolake, 35, was hit by shrapnel from a grenade at CST station. He lost his job as a hotel waiter while he was receiving treatment for his injuries.
“Everybody knows he (Kasab) did it,” he told AFP. “He should be punished.”
Before the trial, Kasab’s lawyer Abbas Kazmi told AFP in an interview that he faced a “nearly impossible task” defending his client because of the number of witnesses.
But he indicated that his defence could hinge on whether Kasab was fully responsible for his actions, suggesting that he may have been brainwashed into carrying out the attacks.
The trial was initially delayed after Kasab claimed to be under 18 at the time of the attacks, raising the prospect that he could be tried by the juvenile court, which can only impose a maximum three-year jail term.
Medical tests, though, established he was over 18.
As a result, the court can impose the maximum sentence of death.
The charge sheet against Kasab, the nine dead gunmen and 35 other LeT “terrorists” sought in connection with the attacks, including Lakhvi, accused them of carrying out a “heinous criminal conspiracy”.
“This was with the express intention to destabilise India, wage war against the country, terrorise its citizens, create financial loss and issue a warning to other countries,” it added.
Two other men are also on trial, Indian nationals Fahim Ansari, 35, and Sabauddin Ahmed, 24, who are said to have provided the group with invaluable logistical support before the attacks.